The paramedics summoned to a town house in the posh Dupont Circle neighborhood on a steamy night in August 2006 had seen their share of crime scenes, but the room where Robert Wone, 32, lay dead was different.
Despite three stab wounds in his chest, there was barely any blood. His body lay atop a neatly turned-down guest bed, and there were no signs of struggle or forced entry.
The three men who shared the house claimed ignorance about what had happened and blamed an intruder.
The case got stranger from there.
A knife in the room didn't match the wounds. The autopsy pointed to signs Wone was restrained and incapacitated before he was killed.
The housemates — Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward — were romantically linked, a self-described family. The victim, by all accounts, was straight and happily married.
Police found bondage paraphernalia in the house, and prosecutors later theorized Wone was injected with a paralytic drug and sexually assaulted before he was stabbed.
More than two years and a couple of investigative errors later, the housemates were charged, not with murder, but with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Wone's killing remains unsolved, but prosecutors believe at least one of the housemates knows who did it. The hope is an obstruction conviction might persuade them to share what they know.
Case begins Monday
D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz will begin hearing the case Monday. The defendants have opted not to have their case heard by a jury, a surprising decision announced just before jury selection was to begin last week.
The mystery of Wone's death has riveted much of Washington, D.C.
"We used to describe it as a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't fit," said Doug Johnson, one of four bloggers who have chronicled the case for the past 18 months at whomurderedrobertwone.com. "Now, it seems more like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are changing shape."
The upscale setting and the housemates' unconventional relationship have added to the fascination.
The defendants, who include an attorney and a marketing executive, have hired some of the city's most prominent defense lawyers. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder worked at the same law firm as Wone and represented his widow, Katherine, in the aftermath of the killing.
It was about 10:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 2006, when Wone arrived at the three-story brick town house on Swann Street, a quiet lane lined by towering ginkgo trees.
He had recently started a job as general counsel for Radio Free Asia and wanted to introduce himself to the people who worked the night shift there. Not wanting to make a late trip back to his Oakton, Va., home, he asked Price, a fellow lawyer and old friend from their student days at the College of William & Mary, if he could spend the night.
Less than an hour and a half after arriving, Wone was stabbed. Zaborsky reported it in a 911 call at 11:49 p.m.
Paramedics found the housemates quiet and aloof, according to a police affidavit. Zaborsky had told the 911 dispatcher they were putting pressure on Wone's wounds, but the paramedics found nobody touching Wone, who "appeared to have been dead for some period of time," according to the affidavit.
One of Wone's stab wounds was big enough to "fit your finger into," one of the paramedics told police, yet there was hardly any blood on the body or in the second-floor guest room.
Wone's wallet, Movado watch and BlackBerry were on a night table. On the first floor, a flat-screen TV and other electronics were undisturbed.
Police were skeptical of the housemates' account. Price and Zaborsky reported hearing short screams or grunts and running from their bedroom to the guest room to find Wone stabbed and alone. Ward said he came out later when he heard the commotion. None heard anybody running through the hall or on the stairs.
Price and Zaborsky said that shortly before the screams, they heard an exterior door's automatic chime and assumed it was a basement tenant arriving home.
Spoke to police
After the killing, the three housemates answered questions from the police into the next morning. They contend their cooperation wasn't entirely voluntary and have sought to have the statements thrown out because they weren't informed of their rights.
"Any decent person would want to help," Ward testified at a recent hearing. "Robert Wone was our friend. Kathy Wone was our friend. Even if they hadn't been our friends, I would have wanted to help. But that doesn't mean that I had a choice that night."
The mystery of Wone's death is not just who killed him, but how. That he was fatally stabbed is clear. But how to explain the absence of defensive wounds, and cuts so clean Wone would have had to be lying perfectly still as he was attacked?
Prosecutors argue the apparent lack of movement indicates Wone was incapacitated before he was stabbed. Investigators tested Wone's blood for the presence of paralytic drugs, but found nothing. Nor were there any markings on his body that would indicate he'd been restrained.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner had hoped to introduce evidence of padded restraints found in Ward's room — which would have been less likely to cause bruising — but Leibovitz forbade it as too prejudicial without enough to tie it to the crime.
The defense plans to outline its version of why Wone was unable to fight back. The attorneys have said they will call a cardiac surgeon to testify that a single cut to the aorta could instantly incapacitate someone. Such a scenario would be consistent with a quick attack by a stealthy intruder with no signs of a struggle.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that police incorrectly used a chemical in examining the crime scene, leading them to detect traces of blood in the room where there may not have been any.
Another glitch: Investigators failed to copy the data from Wone's BlackBerry before it was returned to his employer and "recycled."
A detective saw two apparently unsent e-mails on the device from 11:05 p.m. and 11:07 p.m. If Wone wrote those messages, it gives credence to the quick-attack theory. If someone else wrote them, they could be part of a cover-up.
Either way, it's one piece of the puzzle that's gone for good.
By Sarah Karush, The Associated Press
Source: Seattle Times Newspaper